Description of Twain's Style as a Writer of Narrative Prose
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, counts as one of the most important American writers, and his style has influenced countless writers. Twain started his career at the newspaper "The Hannibal Journal," and it was his life in Hannibal, Mo., and his work as a riverboat pilot that helped him develop the writer's voice that so many know today.
Twain's narrative writing style belongs to what people call Southwestern humor. This regional style of writing features earthy language, at times crude humor and doses of cruelty as well as stock characters and situations in which the trickster triumphs. Twain's life in Hannibal introduced him to many of these character types; it was there that he familiarized himself with character types such as slave dealers, riverboat travelers and gamblers. For example, one of Twain's most famous characters, Jim in "Huckleberry Finn," starts out as a stock character but is transformed when Huck starts to see him as a person. This style of writing marks the ending of Romanticism and the beginning of Realism in American literature.
Great American Novelist
Unlike the English writers who came before him, Twain created a much looser narrative style. The way characters spoke sounded like real speech, and no two characters sounded the same. Each had a distinctive voice that told the reader who was speaking. This American novelist did for literature what Walt Whitman did for poetry -- introduce the vernacular into writing.
Despite writing almost 150 years ago, the humor in Twain's work still resonates today. Humor is something the writer began producing during his newspaper days at "The Hannibal Journal," where he contributed short, humorous pieces as well as articles to the paper. Interestingly enough, although Clemens mostly went by his pen name Mark Twain when he wrote, he did have another pseudonym that he used when writing humor: Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.
Leaving His Mark
American writer Ernest Hemingway attributed the proliferation of an American style of writing to the river man. He said Twain didn't sound like any other American writer although certainly other writers of the era such as Sarah Orne Jewett and William Dean Howells also worked in a realistic style. However, many writers that followed Twain have acknowledged his influence on their writing styles. According to the NEA's "The Big Read," William Faulkner's work shows Twain's influence. The NEA cites Faulkner's stories "Barn Burning" and "The Bear" in particular. Faulkner himself acknowledged the influence, calling Twain the "father of American literature" ... and the writers who followed him Twain's heirs.
- PBS.org: Mark Twain
- NPR: Why Mark Twain Still Matters
- America's Library: Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn
- Mark Twain Institute: Biography
- Mark Twain Institute: Pen Names
- Washington State University: Southwestern Humor, 1830-1860
- The Women's Institute of Houston: Mark Twain -- New Perspectives on America’s Quintessential Writer
- NEA/The Big Read: Mark Twain's Literary Influence
Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.